Curious about some of the career options you have that involve playing and performing music — but don’t want to be on stage in front of thousands of screaming fans? Learn how to become a music therapist and what the job entails in this guest post by Ann Arbor, MI teacher Elaina R…
The therapeutic effects of music are no secret; just think of how much better your favorite song makes you feel after a bad day. One excellent way to channel music into a career – and to help others along the way – is to become a music therapist. Music therapy capitalizes on the soothing, healing aspects of music to help people in difficult situations.
Music therapists work with all kinds of people, from those with physical or mental disabilities to those dealing with terminal illness. By applying music in a scientific way, these professionals are often able to achieve impressive results. Whether you want to become a music therapist or simply looking to hire one, it helps to understand what it takes to become a music therapist.
What is a Music Therapist?
A music therapist is a therapist who uses music to treat patients. Unlike other therapists, who often work in offices (think of the stereotypical “therapist’s couch”), music therapists often work directly in hospitals, clinics, and other centers where their services are needed. They sing and play guitar and piano during sessions.
What Are the Benefits of Music Therapy?
Music therapists often work with specific demographics of people for whom normal therapy is less effective. This includes people suffering from mental illnesses such as autism and Alzheimer’s disease; drug and alcohol abuse patients; young children; and crisis and trauma patients. Plenty of research has been conducted on the subject, showing that music therapy is effective for treating dementia, anxiety, depression, and numerous other conditions.
How to Become a Music Therapist
There are two steps to becoming a music therapist: getting a degree in Music Therapy and passing the American Musical Therapy Association’s exam to become board certified. There are dozens of universities that offer degrees in Music Therapy across the country.
The Music Therapy Degree
Since music therapy is a combination of musicianship and psychology, music therapy students are required to study both. You are also required to perform internships in clinics, where you’ll get hands-on experience working with patients. Here’s a quick breakdown of what that means.
- The Music Side: Music therapists take many of the same courses as music majors, including conducting, music history, theory, and composition. You are also required to study voice, piano, and guitar, as well as perform in ensembles (such as choir).
- The Therapy Side: Expect courses in human development, therapy, and psychopathology. Music therapists also have to study the psychological effects of music, learn how to apply music in therapeutic situations, and practice applying them through internships.
- The Internship: During internships, you’ll work with patients under the supervision of licensed therapists. It’s a pretty serious commitment involving 1,200 hours – that’s about 150 8-hour days – of working in clinics with patients with a variety of ailments. You will work in at least three different places during these internships, and advanced students perform supervised music therapy sessions.
Once you get your degree in Music Therapy, you are eligible to take the American Music Therapy Association’s exam. If you pass the exam, you earn a Music Therapist Board Certification that allows you to become professional music therapist.
The Power of Music
If you want to become a music therapist, know that it is arguably even harder than becoming a traditional therapist. Not only will you have to study therapy and psychology, you will have to study music as well (and become adept at three different instruments). But music is a powerful force, and musical therapists get to use that power to help others in an extremely rewarding career.
Elaina R. teaches opera voice and singing in Ann Arbor, MI, as well as through online lessons. She is currently working on a Master of Music at the University of Michigan, and she has a B.M. from the University of Southern California. Learn more about Elaina here!
Photo by Wm Andrew Murphy